Five ways to meet deadlines and avoid procrastination
By Eleanor Hope-Jones
Jan 11, 2023
Meeting deadlines. Love it or hate it, we all have to do it.
But if deadlines send you into an anxious panic that makes you procrastinate more than usual, they can be hard to tackle.
Don’t worry, we’re here to teach all about the secret powers of using a detailed schedule, time blocking and communication to complete projects with your stellar reputation intact.
Let's take a look at why deadlines matter, where the term comes from and 5 of our top tips to set realistic deadlines and meet them.
What does it mean to meet deadlines?
Simply put, meeting a deadline is finishing and delivering a piece of work, a service or an item by a specific date and time.
Some deadlines are strict, like in an academic setting where you’ll get a zero or a capped grade if your work is handed in even one second late.
Others are more flexible, like finishing a project by the end of the month unless something more important comes up.
You may delay, but time will not.
Why does meeting deadlines matter?
Deadlines might sound like a purely functional thing, but there are lots of psychological reasons why making and meeting them are good for you.
Deadlines can help you with your sense of self
Avoiding procrastination, meeting deadlines and achieving your goals are all really important when it comes to your self-efficacy.
Self-efficacy is how much you believe in your ability to achieve goals or act in the way you’ve said you’re going to. For example if you say to yourself you’ll wake up at 6.30am every day your self-efficacy is how much you believe you’re going to do it.
What’s tricky is that self-efficacy (which is closely related to self-esteem) can be self-fulfilling prophecies. If you don’t believe in yourself you won’t get things done… so you won’t believe in yourself even more.
Meeting deadlines can help break this cycle. Deadlines can improve your sense of self by:
Helping you achieve both short and long-term goals. As the famous phrase goes “a goal without a deadline is just a dream”. Deadlines force us to make our dreams into plans.
Feeling more motivated to get tasks done by a certain date, and (over time and repetition) confident because you’ve done it before.
Improving your ability to prioritize what to do first, and therefore spending your time on the most important tasks.
Deadlines help you work as part of a team
When it comes to shared projects, deadlines are a must. They’ll help you and your team collaborate and layer each other’s work on top of each other.
Meeting deadlines will also improve your professional reputation as someone reliable and capable, which will improve your long-term career prospects.
Deadlines improve the quality of the work itself
When working towards a deadline you have to define exactly what work you need to deliver, which can often help avoid confusion at a later date.
Deadlines can also create points for intervention. For example getting the first draft of something done by a certain date gives you time to get others' feedback that can steer a piece of work in a better direction.
They also keep a piece of work contained and stop it from succumbing to Parkinson’s Law and taking longer than it needs to.
What is Parkinson’s Law?
Parkinson’s Law is the theory that a piece of work expands or contracts to fill the amount of time you give it.
For example, you could write a presentation over a week or in a few hours. So setting a tight deadline can improve your productivity on a certain task.
Check out our blog post on Parkinson’s Law to find out more about this intriguing phenomenon.
Where does the term deadline come from?
The history of the word deadline is a bit macabre (so skip this section if you’re not up for a bit of a grim history lesson.)
The term was first used in the 1860s during the American Civil War when keeping prisoners. Guards would draw a line around their captives and it was made clear if a prisoner crossed the line they would be shot.
Hence a ‘dead…line’.
It’s no wonder the term deadline sends chills down the spine.
How do you show that you meet deadlines?
Quite often in a workplace, there’ll be an online schedule or planner you can use to show you’ve completed a piece of work.
Posting your finished piece in a public or semi-public forum, rather than emailing it to one person, can also encourage a culture of openness and cross-collaboration.
(Not to mention boost your own reputation 😉)
How you meet deadlines is quite often a popular interview question. Thinking of a time you met a deadline and breaking down how you got there is a good way to demonstrate your reliable and organized character.
Take a look at the following reasons and strategies to feel inspired on how you’ll answer this tricky question.
Five steps to beat procrastination and meet tight deadlines
When it comes to approaching a piece of work and a specific deadline, having a strategy for how you’re going to tackle it can help you feel more confident and in control. Here are our 5 favorite steps to meeting tight deadlines you might find yourself dreading.
Break down the project
Sometimes when we’ve been given a large task the idea of completing it can be overwhelming. The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, so breaking down your project into specific tasks is the first step to avoid feeling overwhelmed and wanting to procrastinate.
We recommend creating a mind map with your project name and a clear deadline at the center.
You can then add all the smaller tasks you need to do to complete it around the outside. This can be done in a coffee-induced haze and completely random order. The most important thing is that you get all your thoughts about your larger project written down as simple tasks.
Create a detailed schedule to complete your tasks
Your next step is to turn all of your thoughts, scribbles and tasks into a linear plan.
Figure out what needs doing first. For example, if there are emails that will take a few days for people to respond to, or research that the rest of the project will be based around.
Start listing things out and estimating how long each part will take you. Studies show that writing down a list of things to do increases your productivity.
It’s called the Zeigarnik Effect and is thought to be a result of your brain having more energy and a greater capacity to focus on the task at hand, because you’re not in the middle of lots of other tasks.
Studies dating as far back as 1927 show participants were twice as likely to remember unfinished tasks better than completed tasks.
So ticking things off that list one at a time, or monotasking as we like to call it, allows your brain to focus on one thing, and then forget it once it’s done to make space for the next task. Whereas working on lots of tasks at once is like having lots of internet tabs open, slowing down your brain’s internal computer.
Looking for a planner that’ll increase your productivity?
Procrastination planners are journals with templates that use a range of productivity hacks and tricks, just like the Zeigarnik Effect or Parkinson’s Law, to increase your productivity.
Take a look at some of our favourite procrastination planners to discover if this could be exactly the productivity hack you’re looking for.
Map your detailed schedule to your calendar
Now you’ve got your broken-down tasks arranged in the order you want to tackle them in, you can book time directly into your calendar. This is called time blocking.
Top tip: Make sure you give yourself buffer time in case a task takes longer than you think it will. Block some buffer time into your calendar so you don’t fill it with anything else. If you want to be someone who consistently meets deadlines, buffer or contingency time is something you’ll always need to factor in.
Depending on the task you’re doing you may also want to timebox some of your activities.
This means limiting the amount of time you spend on something. For example, only allow yourself 6 hours of research before you start writing.
Be honest about whether you can meet a tight deadline
Now you’ve mapped out a realistic time frame on your calendar, reflect on whether the deadlines you’re working towards are realistic.
Asking for an extension two weeks before a deadline is due is usually far more acceptable than a few minutes before you promised you could get it done.
Perhaps you can ask your boss or colleague which work they’d like you to prioritize or whether anyone else can support you. You’re now also in a position to push back on any other work that’s asked of you as you’ve set aside time to meet your deadline.
If prioritization is consistently a problem for you, take a look at our thoughts on the Eisenhower Matrix. This prioritization framework can help you separate out what’s important, what’s urgent and what needs to be delegated.
Try a Flock for free to help you trick your brain out of procrastinating
FLOWN runs online virtual co-working sessions called 'Flocks', designed to free you from distraction and take the willpower out of productivity.
Try a Flock for free today, and see how much you can tick off your to-do list!
If you hit a block then communicate this with your team ASAP
Estimating how long a piece of work will take is not an exact science.
You’ll know best whether getting a piece of work done right or getting it done quickly is more important.
Perhaps your work is blocked by another team, you’ve been hit by the dreaded writer's block or the project is just a lot more difficult than you estimated.
To show that you care about meeting deadlines make it clear why you’re going to miss the current deadline. Think carefully about who it will affect and how to keep stakeholders informed.
If the work is a lot more complex than expected your team may want to reassess whether it’s worth the extra time.
No one will meet a deadline 100% of the time
No matter what time management super skills people claim to have, life has a nasty habit of getting in the way.
If you have a family emergency or are affected by a natural disaster there’s not much you can do.
How you handle a missed deadline is often just as important as hitting deadlines. This way people know you’re a reliable, communicative person regardless of the situation.
So the next time you’re given a deadline, do your best and communicate the rest.